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Improving children and families’ experience of the Court system

By November 4, 2015November 5th, 2015No Comments

In Victoria, two new ways of improving children and families’ experience of the court system have been receiving positive reviews and are hoped to be extended around the country.

The new $11.4million court complex at Broadmeadows which opened last week will house both Australia’s first ‘Cubby House’—a specially designed safe place for kids attending court—and will now also integrate the country’s first Family Drug Treatment Court, which is in its second year of a three year pilot program.

The ‘Cubby House’ concept, delivered in conjunction with The Alannah and Madeline Foundation, is designed to create a sanctuary for children away from the very adult environment of the court system. Children who are the subject of protection order procedures “will have a safe and entertaining space to hang out in while their futures are being decided”. The children have access to a youth worker, and various entertainment options, such as a flat-screen television, books, iPads, games consoles, beanbags, and even therapeutic gardening. The youth-focused waiting room can accommodate up to four children a day, and will work as a helpful positive distraction for children who will no longer be forced to wait in hallways or outside courts where “they would often witness emotional or heated conversations between lawyers, parents and welfare officers”.

One of the other difficulties families have had in dealing with the Children’s Court has been the long time frames involved, with cases dragging on, creating uncertainty and instability for children and families.  Now, with the establishment of the Family Drug Treatment Court at the Children’s Court, some families are able to access a voluntary program that aims to help them reunify their families sooner and more successfully through participation in an intensive substance-abuse program. Substance abuse is a huge issue, with Family Drug Treatment Court Magistrate Greg Levine noting that ‘at least 65%-70% of new cases of new cases that come to the Children’s Court every year involve parents with substance abuse issues’, or a staggering 3000 cases. The drug treatment program is an opportunity for parents to be able to demonstrate the possibility of becoming clean and sober and being reunified with their children.

For a 12-month period, the Children’s Court works intensively with parents in a ‘wraparound service’, arranging detox and rehab, counselling, regular drug testing, housing and employment assistance. Parents discuss their progress with the magistrate in a non-judgmental way with the aim of building trust and making steady progress. Magistrate Kay McPherson describes her role in the supported rehabilitation program as almost being one of a ‘life coach’—markedly different from the usual relationship court users have with authorities.

Considering the program is described as ‘not hugely expensive’, and given the benefit to both families and the community, it is hoped similar programs will be rolled out around Australia, given the widespread problem of substance abuse.

The Children’s Court is a specialist court to deal with criminal cases, applications for apprehended violence orders, applications for compulsory schooling orders and cases involving the care and protection of children. Do you need assistance with a children’s court matter or do you need an Accredited Children’s Lawyer?  Our solicitors can help you with your case—please call us today on (02) 6223 2400 or see our website here http://www.criminallawcanberra.com.au/criminal-lawyer/.

Or, if you have a family law parenting matter–drafting a Parenting Plan or a set of Consent Orders, or if your matter is at the stage where court is the final option—please call one of our family lawyers or see our webpage here for more info: https://www.familylawincanberra.com.au/

Read more about the Children’s Court’s Cubby House here: https://www.amf.org.au/Assets/Files/Cubby%20House%20press%20release%201.pdf

Read more about the Family Drug Treatment Court here: http://www.childrenscourt.vic.gov.au/jurisdictions/child-protection/family-drug-treatment-court

Sources: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/safe-space-created-for-children-caught-up-in-court-20151023-gkh0ji.html and http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/lawreport/the-family-drug-treatment-court-in-victoria/6864794

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